At the Modern Language Association’s annual meeting in Chicago this year, Diane Ravitch, a former U.S. Department of Education assistant secretary under George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, accompanied by her “life partner” Mary Butts, wasted no time in attacking Common Core. Common Core “creates a test score gap,” lead to a “meritocracy [which] is sad and fragile,” and puts forward the thought that “being a member of a lucky sperm club” is the way to go and progress in society, Ravitch argued.
She also criticized George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Obama’s Race to the Top programs. No Child Left Behind, when passed, put 2014 as the date where if there was no improvement in mandated testing, “schools would face escalating sanctions” and that “by this standard we’re supposed to close every public school in America.” As a result, school districts in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Georgia and El Paso, Texas cheated on the NCLB tests and were exposed for it. Ravitch claimed that Congress gave $5 billion to promote education reform and “propagandist films like ‘Waiting for Superman.’” Films like those, according to Ravitch, promoted the idea that “poverty was just an excuse for bad schools” and that schoolteachers should be fired without “due process”.
One of the major problems with Common Core and NCLB, in Ravitch’s opinion, was the following:
“These two federal programs heavily rely on standardized testing, have produced a massive demoralization of teachers, an unprecedented, I keep saying unprecedented and I’m a historian…educators who have been replaced by young, inexperienced teachers without the hope to remain long enough to gain a pension.”
She has seen “an increase of low-quality, for-profit schools” and other charter schools that “earn millions for their” bosses, but have taken due process away from good teachers. Ravitch did not appreciate how the “elimination of collective agreements” such as due process and collective bargaining was viewed by the American public as eliminating “a way of protecting bad teachers.” She blamed corporations for the expansion of charter schools, which she claimed “view education as an emerging market as ripe for the picking.” Ravitch also criticized athletes who are “opening brand-name schools” without knowing much about teaching.
Common Core and NCLB impose mandatory testing every other year in the U.S., while “no other nation tests every student, every other year.” For example, she shared the fact that in North Carolina, “third graders will be tested at least 36 times until they reach fourth grade.” Ravitch bluntly stated, “our students are the most over-tested in the world” and “most researchers agree that this is a fundamentally flawed” strategy. Even the Department of Education said, “Public education itself is a disaster.”
Both Republicans and Democrats, alleged Ravitch, have “converged on the Republican” argument of cutting costs and increasing school choice by “eliminating unions and pensions” and “cutting costs for low technology”. She pointed out how the Gates Foundation has spent almost $200 million in promoting Common Core, so much so that she said it should be called the ‘Gates Common Core Standards.” She noted that some states, such as Texas, openly resisted Common Core and Massachusetts had to downgrade their standards to Common Core levels.
“In the future, all testing will be done online,” said Ravitch, “[because] the Common Core was intended to be a marketplace” for both publishers and other corporate vendors. She warned, “It will be a bonanza for the tech [industry].” Why? She stated that it is “integral to the Common Core that they [students] would be tested on computers using online exams.” Ravitch offered this emphatic statement:
“Never has a national policy been designed for a national marketplace.”
She criticizes Common Core because it rewards affluent teachers and their students with better ratings, while giving teachers in poorer neighborhood a bad rap. And, adding to the laundry list of Common Core unknowns, “No one knows whether Common Core will fulfill any of these promises.”
Ravitch observed that other opponents of Common Core have emerged on the political right, such as the “Tea Party groups” and claimed that “the Koch brothers recently announced they will put in half a million dollars” to oppose it. “Parents showed up en masse to protest the test scores.”
Under Common Core, “most students are guaranteed to fail, and they have” with only 3% of English language learners passed the test.” Only Massachusetts saw more than a 50% passing rate in the U.S. The reporting problem is also a huge concern, with teachers not receiving any feedback on how to help their students except for a test score. “What is exactly the point of impressing the minds and hearts of young students…that 70% are certain to fail,” asked Ravitch.
She said that the fact that schools in “Los Angeles alone committed 1 billion to buy iPads for all its students and teachers” while cutting teachers and increasing class sizes. Adding insult to injury, the “content on the iPads only has a 3-year license” and will be outdated in a year’s time. Also, Ravitch attacked the Obama administration line that early childhood education is essential to education reform and Common Core. She cited that several early childhood educators called the Common Core standards “developmentally inappropriate” for children and leaves “inadequate time for imagination and play.” Instead of trying to herd children into colleges or careers in pre-school, these children are more worried about being astronauts and firefighters, said Ravitch. She questioned the percentages of time allotted for reading and teaching under Common Core standards and whether the data was ever meant to be interpreted it in that manner. She had never seen an entire nation specifically assign reading time nor has she seen it assigned “by a committee of twenty-seven people in 2009.” Ravitch believed that teachers know what is best for their students and that Common Core should be changed. For example, Common Core “was not given down at Mount Sinai” and it would be “nuts” to stand firm on untested standards.
Ravitch said, “We have a national policy, that is a theory, grounded in hope, and it might be wrong, with disastrous consequences” for students and teachers. She said she is “for standards…but they must not be rigid, inflexible and rigid” because “standards alone cannot produce a miraculous transformation.” Now, if experienced teachers had input in the Common Core, Ravitch said she would be fine with it. And, the testing will be graded by computers and not people, which she said was inauthentic. Common Core “reeks of early 20th century style industrial thinking” of the days of “robber barons.” Because of Common Core, it seemed that “meritocracy” is the future of American education as well as the expansion of “Big Data.” The new “meritocracy” will ensure that those without a high school diploma will “be in society’s dead-end jobs” and she accused Common Core of allowing “testing corporations” too much power or sway.